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Strike by 11 000 halts gold mining

IOL - Reuters
22 March 2000

Thousands of gold miners stayed away from work on Wednesday in a one-day strike at Free State gold mines to protest against job losses and poverty.

Gold Fields, the world's second largest gold producer, said mining operations at its Beatrix, St Helena and Oryx mines had effectively ground to a halt after 11 000 members of the National Union of Mineworkers (Num) failed to show up for work.

"It appears the plants are working, but mining operations have been hit," Gold Fields spokesperson Willie Jacobsz said.

Gold Fields estimated the one-day job action would cost St Helena about R1,5-million in lost revenue, Beatrix about R3,6-million, and Oryx roughly R1-million.

Total one day output from the three mines is about 111kg.

Harmony Gold said about 9 000 mineworkers at its Free State mine had failed to report for work, closing down mining operations for the day, but the plant was still operating.

"We will try to recover it, but it is a lost day of production," said operations director Graham Briggs.

AngloGold and African Rainbow Minerals, two other major Free State gold producers, did not have immediate details on the state of their operations.

A Num spokesperson said the strike was part of a campaign against unemployment launched by the 1,8 million-member Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). The protest has seen rolling job action in several provinces and is set to climax in a national strike on May 10.

The Num has about 50 000 members in the Free State, one of the country's richest gold belts.

At their peak, gold mines were the backbone of the country's economy, employing 530 000 miners in 1987. But the industry was forced to restructure after the end of apartheid in 1994 opened South Africa's economy to foreign competition.

That, coupled with a steadily declining gold price, has trimmed the gold mining workforce to around 200 000 today. - Reuters

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